Brown Sugar Bourbon Marinade

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This Brown Sugar Bourbon Marinade recipe is a whiskey lover's dream! Made with 7 simple ingredients in 5 minutes or less, it's an easy marinade that is perfectly balanced. Any bourbon-forward flavor is offset with rich, tangy balsamic vinegar and Dijon mustard. Plus, a little bit of brown sugar adds sweetness and creates crave-worthy caramelized char on the grill.

Use it to elevate grilled chicken, steak, pork chops, kabobs, and more!

Featured In Grilling Series
Grilled brown sugar bourbon chicken thighs shown on a white speckled plate atop a light blue surface. The chicken is garnished with fresh sprigs of rosemary.

Calling All Whiskey Lovers! 🥃 This Easy Bourbon Marinade Recipe is for You!

This easy marinade recipe is one I developed with Chris, my whiskey-loving husband, in mind. Wanting to make a special grilled meal even more special for him, I grabbed a bottle of bourbon and got to work. (Wife of the year, right? 💁🏻‍♀️)

The resulting recipe, this brown sugar bourbon marinade hits all the right notes. Any harsh bite from the rich barrel-aged whiskey is mellowed out when combined with tangy balsamic and Dijon mustard. While bourbon’s natural caramelly sweetness is enhanced with brown sugar.

It’s so perfectly balanced that it’s a hit with whiskey lovers and haters alike. (Trust me here…I’m not a whiskey fanatic but I love this bourbon marinade!)

Tangy and sweet brown sugar bourbon marinade adds bold yet balanced flavor to anything you’d ever want to throw on the grill.

The really fun thing about this whiskey marinade is that it’s super simple and versatile too! Made with 7 ingredients in 5 minutes or less, it works just like an all-purpose grilling marinade.

Use it to make the best bourbon chicken, or to add even more flavor to your favorite grilled steaks, kebabs, or pork chops. It’s also great on seafood like shrimp and salmon…seriously, everything!

Summer grilling just got a little boozier, and we’re so not mad about it! 😎

Want more marinades for grilling season? We’ve got you covered! Check out PWWB’s 15 Go-To Grilling Marinades.

Key Ingredients

The best thing about this brown sugar bourbon marinade is that it’s so flavorful but it’s made with just 7 very simple ingredients.

It does not get better than steak house-fancy flavors made from pantry ingredients!

Bourbon, brown sugar, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, whole grain mustard, garlic, salt, pepper, dried rosemary, and crushed red pepper flakes arranged on a light blue surface.
7 simple ingredients make up this easy marinade – be sure to shop your pantry and liquor cabinet first before heading to the store!

Here’s what you need…

  • Bourbon – Of course! There’s no need to grab a top-shelf bourbon for this bourbon marinade recipe since it’s being mixed with other flavor-forward ingredients. We always have a handle of Bulliet or Jim Beam on hand for our favorite cocktail. It works beautifully for this marinade recipe, too.
  • Balsamic vinegar – Its tangy, rich flavor mellows out any harsh notes of the whiskey. For best results, use a nice, aged balsamic vinegar.
  • Brown sugar – For a touch of sweetness that caramelizes on the grill! For an extra rich, caramelly flavor use dark brown sugar. If you prefer a more natural sweetener, coconut sugar, honey, pure maple syrup, and agave will work too.
  • Aromatics – Namely garlic (of course!), mustard (either Dijon or whole grain work great here), and rosemary (feel free to use fresh or dried).
  • Olive oil – A little bit to hold the marinade together! Since this grill marinade has so many other big flavors, you don’t need to use an expensive oil. If you prefer grilling with high smoke point oils, use avocado oil, grapeseed oil, or whatever neutral oil you love most as an alternative.

How to Make This Easy Bourbon Marinade

The other thing to love about this brown sugar bourbon marinade recipe? It takes practically no time and minimal effort to make.

It’s a really simple one bowl, 5-minute operation!

Chicken thighs in a large glass mixing bowl, marinating in Brown Sugar Bourbon marinade. The bowl sits atop a light blue surface.
From chicken to…
Diced sirloin steak marinates in brown sugar bourbon marinade inside of a large glass bowl.
steak and everything in between this easy marinade adds instant flavor to anything you love to grill!

To make this simple brown sugar bourbon marinade, simply add all of the ingredients to a medium bowl, whisking to combine, and add your protein or veggies of choice. That’s it!

Suggested Marinating Time: Marinating time varies based on the type of protein you use. Having tested this recipe with a variety of different proteins and marinating times, here’s what I suggest:

  • Mild proteins like chicken and pork should soak in this bourbon marinade for at least 6 hours and up to 3 days.
  • Rich or gamey proteins like beef and lamb should soak in this bourbon marinade for at least 12 hours and up to 3 days.
  • Veggies last even longer – you can marinate them for at least 20 minutes or up to 5 days.
  • Delicate proteins like seafood (i.e. salmon, shrimp, flaky white fish) have a shorter marinade time – aim for at least 20 minutes and no more than 1 hour.
Chicken thighs in a Ziploc bag, marinating in Brown Sugar Bourbon marinade. The bag sits atop a light blue surface. “Brown Sugar Bourbon Marinade" is penned in the bag's memo area.
The flavors of this homemade brown sugar bourbon marinade meld together, even more, the longer it sits! Refer to the notes above for suggested marinade times.

Meal Prep

Despite the suggested marinating times for this all-purpose marinade recipe, you can still get ahead on your dinner by prepping the marinade in advance. Prep the marinade and store it in a jar or an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. When you’re ready to start marinating, simply give the marinade a shake and pour it over whatever meat or veggies you’re using it on – easy!

Step-by-Step Video

Serving Suggestions

One of the things we love most about this brown sugar bourbon grill marinade is that it is so versatile.

You can use it to add rich bourbon flavor to anything you like to throw on the grill during the summer months – meat, veggies, seafood, you name it!

Grilled brown sugar bourbon chicken thighs shown on a white speckled plate atop a light blue surface. The chicken is garnished with fresh sprigs of rosemary.
Grilled chicken is taken to the next level when marinated with this bourbon and brown sugar marinade. The easiest grilled bourbon chicken you’ll ever make!

A few favorite pairings to try…

  • Chicken. If you love bourbon chicken, this is the marinade for you! It adds so much flavor to lean cuts like boneless, skinless chicken breasts and thighs. You can also use it on bone-in skin on parts, like legs and drumsticks.
  • Seafood. It creates an awesome bourbon glaze on grilled salmon and grilled shrimp skewers!
  • Pork. Grilled pork chops or pork tenderloin practically beg for brown sugar and bourbon!
  • Beef. Another great option, since the flavor of the marinade is big enough to stand up to rich beef. Use on your favorite steaks, like grilled ribeye or flank steak, or to make epic beef kabobs!
  • Veggies. Yes, veggies! This bourbon marinade is great with hearty grilled veggies, like onions, mushrooms, and baby potatoes…yes please! Grill them on their own, or skewer them onto satisfying summer kabobs with your favorite proteins.

No Grill? Use Your Stovetop or Oven!

If you do not have access to a grill, this marinade also works great with any other preparation – stovetop, skillet meals, sheet pan meals, etc. Tip! ⇢ You can create a similar caramelized, grilled effect by using a grill pan on the stove or baking in the oven and finishing under the broiler.

Sirloin steak kabobs are arranged atop a white plate alongside grilled baby potatoes. The meal has been garnished with fresh snipped chives and crumbled bleu cheese.
My ideal plate? ⇢ Diced sirloin steak marinated in brown sugar bourbon marinade and skewered with veggies then grilled until crispy and charred. Serve with grilled baby potatoes, a sprinkling of bleu cheese, freshly snipped chives, and coarsely ground black pepper!

I can’t wait for you to try this Brown Sugar Bourbon Marinade recipe! It’s tangy, sweet, boozy, and perfect with anything you throw on the grill!

If you do give it a try, be sure to let us know! Leave a comment with a star rating below. You can also snap a photo and tag @playswellwithbutter on Instagram. We LOVE seeing your PWWB creations!

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Grilled brown sugar bourbon chicken thighs shown on a white speckled plate atop a light blue surface. The chicken is garnished with fresh sprigs of rosemary.

Brown Sugar Bourbon Marinade (for Chicken, Steak, Pork, and More!)

5 Stars 4 Stars 3 Stars 2 Stars 1 Star 4.4 from 7 reviews
  • Author: Jess Larson
  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Cook Time: 0 minutes
  • Total Time: 5 minutes
  • Yield: 1 cup 1x
  • Category: Sauces & Condiments, Marinade
  • Method: No-Cook, Grill
  • Cuisine: American

Description

This Brown Sugar Bourbon Marinade recipe is a whiskey lover’s dream! Made with 7 simple ingredients in 5 minutes or less, it’s an easy marinade that is perfectly balanced. Any bourbon-forward flavor is offset with rich, tangy balsamic vinegar and Dijon or whole grain mustard. Plus, a little bit of brown sugar adds sweetness and creates crave-worthy caramelized char on the grill.

Use it to elevate grilled chicken, steak, pork chops, kabobs, and more!


Ingredients

Scale
  • 2 pounds meat or veggies of choice
  • ½ cup bourbon (see Recipe Notes)
  • ⅓ cup brown sugar, firmly packed
  • ¼ cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon whole grain mustard
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped or grated
  • 1 teaspoon dried rosemary (or 1 tablespoon freshly chopped)
  • optional: pinch crushed red pepper flakes
  • kosher salt and ground black pepper, to season

Bourbon, brown sugar, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, whole grain mustard, garlic, salt, pepper, dried rosemary, and optional crushed red pepper flakes are arranged on a light blue surface.


Instructions

  1. Mix the brown sugar bourbon: Add the bourbon, brown sugar, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, mustard, garlic, rosemary, and crushed red pepper flakes, if using, to a bowl or jar. Season with 2 teaspoons kosher salt and ground black pepper, as desired. Whisk or shake to combine.Brown Sugar Bourbon marinade shown in a small ball jar, sitting atop a light blue surface with a fresh sprig of rosemary & crushed red chili pepper flakes on the surface in the foreground and in the background.
  2. Marinate: Pour the bourbon marinade over your meat or veggies of choice. Marinate at least 6 hours or up to overnight.Chicken thighs in a large glass mixing bowl, marinating in Brown Sugar Bourbon marinade. The bowl sits atop a light blue surface.
  3. Grill as desired. Enjoy!Grilled brown sugar bourbon chicken thighs shown on a white speckled plate atop a light blue surface. The chicken is garnished with fresh sprigs of rosemary.

Notes

  • Bourbon: There’s no need to grab a top-shelf bourbon in for this bourbon marinade recipe since it’s being mixed with other flavor-forward ingredients like balsamic, mustard, and rosemary. We always have a handle of Jim Beam on hand, and it does the trick here!
  • Suggested marinade time: Marinating time will vary based on the type of protein you’d like to use. Having tested this Brown Sugar Bourbon Marinade recipe with a variety of different proteins and a variety of different marinating times, here’s what I suggest:
    • Seafood – At least 20 minutes and no more than 1 hour.
    • Chicken and pork – At least 6 hours and up to 3 days.
    • Beef and lamb – At least 12 hours and up to 3 days.
    • Veggies – At least 20 minutes or up to 5 days.
  • 10-Minute Meal Prep: If you’d like to marinate something beyond the suggested marinade times above but would like to do some meal prep, I suggest prepping the marinade in advance. Store it in a jar or an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days – the flavors meld together even more as the marinade sits. When you’re ready to start marinating (refer to the suggested marinating times above), simply give it the marinade a shake and pour it over whatever meat or veggies you’re using it on – easy!

Recipe by Jess Larson, Plays Well With Butter | Photography by Eat Love Eat

Grilled brown sugar bourbon chicken thighs shown on a white speckled plate atop a light blue surface. The chicken is garnished with fresh sprigs of rosemary.

Follow along with Plays Well With Butter on Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, and Pinterest for more unfussy recipes that pack a big punch of flavor!

Hi there, I'm Jess!

If there’s 1 thing to know about me, it’s this: I am head-over-heels in love with food. I’m on a mission to make weeknight cooking flavorful, fast, & fun for other foodies, & PWWB is where I share foolproof recipes that deliver major flavor with minimal effort. Other true loves: pretty shoes, puppies, Grey’s Anatomy, & my cozy kitchen in Minneapolis, MN.

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Comments

  1. 4.7.24
    Patty said:

    Made this marinade for pork tenderloin…about 9 hours in a zip lock bag.
    Cooked on the smoker, and poured some of the marinade into a saucepan to hard boil. Made a sauce using just a bit of corn starch!
    So good! Paired with a mushroom risotto and a bourbon barrel aged cab! Awesome!






    • 4.8.24
      Emma @ Plays Well With Butter said:

      Those pairings sound AMAZING! So happy to hear you loved the marinade!

  2. 2.29.24
    Km said:

    Does the alcohol cook off so children can eat this

    • 2.29.24
      Emma @ Plays Well With Butter said:

      Hi Km, yes, some/most of the alcohol does cook off – ultimately it’s up to you and your comfort zone! Some kids may not enjoy the bourbon flavor, either, but it won’t cause intoxication 🙂 Hope that helps!

  3. 9.15.23
    Heather said:

    This did not taste good at all. No seasoning and tasted like straight bourbon.






    • 9.20.23
      Erin @ Plays Well With Butter said:

      Hi Heather! We’re sorry the marinade wasn’t what you had expected. Other readers have tried & enjoyed a balance of rich, tangy, & sweet flavors of the bourbon, balsamic, mustard, & brown sugar. Can we ask how long did you marinate your choice of meat or veggies and what protein/veggie did you use the marinade with?

  4. 6.18.23

    Can I use this on a cast iron skillet with steaks?

    • 6.20.23
      Emma @ Plays Well With Butter said:

      Hi Tonae, you absolutely can!

  5. 12.17.22
    Jubie said:

    Tried it on pork tenderloin today, and it was really good! The only thing I changed was the bourbon, since I didn’t have any more and wasn’t about to go out for some. I used a honey whiskey thing I’ve had kicking around since last Christmas, and it worked just fine flavor wise. I can totally imagine what it would be like with actual bourbon, and I’m looking forward to giving it another go. I agree with Holly – this would be amazing on steak!






    • 12.19.22
      Erin @ Plays Well With Butter said:

      Hi Jubie! Thanks so much & SO glad to hear that you enjoyed – the honey whiskey sounds like a great sub!

  6. 4.24.22
    Stephanie said:

    This looks super tasty. Can’t wait to change up the regular old chicken.

    • 4.25.22
      Erin @ Plays Well With Butter said:

      Hi Stephanie! Thanks so much!! Hope you give it a try soon – we LOVE how easy it is to switch up flavors by trying a new marinade. Check out all of our marinades HERE!

  7. 1.5.22
    Angela Aanerud said:

    This Brown Sugar Bourbon Marinade looks amazing, and I would bet the caramelization you can get from it is fantastic on meats and veggies. My question is, can you freezer meal prep using this marinade, or will it infuse too much into the food and ruin it? I would love to use it in some of my freezer meals so I can just dump it into a crockpot or instant pot and finish it off under a broiler. Your thoughts?

  8. 12.15.21
    Jennifer S Daniels said:

    NVM I went back and re-read the article. 5 days…thank you

  9. 12.15.21
    Jennifer S Daniels said:

    I’m thinking of giving these as gifts. How long can it keep in the fridge without in it marinating?

    • 12.15.21
      Jennifer S Daniels said:

      NVM I went back and re-read the article. 5 days…thank you

      • 2.19.22
        Julie J said:

        Hi. I assume that the alcohol burns off like most recipes that call for various wines etc

    • 12.27.21
      Erin @ Plays Well With Butter said:

      Hey Jennifer! So sorry for the delayed response but glad you were able to find the info in the original post. Yes, the marinade will keep for up to 5 days in the refrigerator – we hope it worked out for you!!

  10. 11.17.21
    Jacki said:

    Looks delicious, cannot wait to try it.

  11. 8.9.21
    Kristin said:

    I’d like to meal prep for my up coming maternity leave. Can I freeze this marinade with my venison? I’ve done something similar with fajita seasonings and chicken.

  12. 6.29.21
    TRACY A HARRAH said:

    Can you tell me if this recipe is gluten free? Thanks!

    • 7.2.21
      Erin @ Plays Well With Butter said:

      Hi Tracy! Most pure distilled whiskey (ie. Bourbon) is considered gluten-free but if you have celiac or are making for someone with celiac, we would recommend double checking the brand of Bourbon used to make sure. The other ingredients in the marinade should naturally be gluten-free, including the balsamic vinegar. However, to be safe we again always recommend checking labels of specific brands used if you are avoiding gluten consumption!

  13. 6.14.21
    Holly said:

    Super easy and tasty marinade! I used it with chicken breast and marinated for about 5 hours, which seemed to be perfect. Definitely could have gone longer. It was very bourbon forward in the flavor which I loved and felt really highlighted the other flavors. I would suggest not skipping the red pepper flake as it added another dimension to flavor profile and gave that sweet/spicy kick. This would be super good on steaks






  14. 5.28.21
    Ellen Mann said:

    Really easy and tasty marinade. My only suggestion would be to use half the amount of bourbon in the recipe, if you’re not into bourbon, because I found the flavor to be a just a bit strong. Otherwise, I marinated some pork chops and they were wonderful.






  15. 5.18.20
    Sammy Jo said:

    Omgshhh this was so good on chicken thighs!






  16. 6.11.19
    Jessica said:

    I made this with chicken last weekend and it was FANTASTIC! I also remembered to use indirect heat per your guide and the chicken was very juicy and not dry at all!